States, including Pennsylvania, target ballot boxes in fight for voting rights | To analyse


Ballot boxes are so secure that they have survived collisions with an SUV and being run over by a school bus – yet much of the battle for the right to vote has centered on large metal boxes.

In the November 2020 general election, nearly 40 states had ballot boxes available and more voters used ballot boxes than in any election in US history, according to a report by the Stanford-MIT Healthy Elections Project.

But in the run-up to the election and the years since, large canisters have become the focus of controversy in state legislatures from Georgia to Texas to Nebraska and in the courts of Wisconsin and New York. Pennsylvania. In many states, Republican lawmakers want to limit or end voters’ choice to return their ballots at the ballot box, citing the potential for tampering or fraud – although there’s no evidence this has happened. product.

Larry Olson, vice president of Laserfab, a Washington state-based metal fabrication company that has been making drop boxes since 2010, acknowledges the irony of all the attention metal boxes will have in 2022.

Olson has traveled to election conferences across the country with county and state election officials. “I still find it funny,” he said. “I’m surrounded by all these people voting on iPads and all these different ballot counts and I’m just sitting there trying to sell a big metal box. It is the lowest of the lowest technologies you can have.

Olson, whose company uses about 800 drop boxes scattered across the country, said lawmakers’ safety concerns were of little merit.

“It’s hard to say you can 100% stop anyone from doing anything, but we’ve found through history that it’s a very safe way to vote,” he said. “I think some of this argument is very, shall we say, political in nature.”

Bolted to the ground

Metal box manufacturing companies involved in the manufacture of drop boxes know that safety must be a priority if counties are using their product. The boxes are designed in close collaboration with election officials, Olson said.

“Every design feature that we talked about with the first counties came down to a concern about the integrity of the process,” Olson said. “All we considered was the overarching question.”

Olson explained some of the steps Laserfab has taken to ensure that ballots cannot be tampered with or damaged:

  • The tops of its drop boxes are not flat, so water and rain do not pool towards the access door and wet the ballots.
  • The boxes are equipped with ledges above the slots which make it difficult for someone to pour water into the box.
  • The slots and the access door are designed so that they must be locked and cannot be closed by themselves, which prevents a worker from forgetting to lock them.
  • Ballot drop boxes are typically bolted to the ground, weigh around 1,000 pounds, and are designed to withstand any type of weather, from torrential downpours to snow and wind.
  • In October 2020, a suspected arsonist set fire to a piece of paper and put it in one of Laserfab’s drop boxes, damaging around 100 ballots (there’s not enough air to inside the box for a fire to do a lot of damage). When firefighters arrived at the scene in Los Angeles County, firefighters had to use a saw to open the box.

“It’s almost impossible to get a crowbar or anything inside and open the access door, so they had to saw the door open to open it,” Olson said.

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A similar incident occurred in Boston a week later, but after the fire was extinguished, the drop box remained open for ballots.

Most ballot boxes are also placed somewhere with CCTV or monitored by a security guard, and usually only allow one or two ballots to be inserted at a time.

“It’s little design features like that that make it really difficult – I hate to say it’s impossible to tamper with anything, but people like us who do this, we take every step to minimize the possibility,” Olson said.

Yet former President Donald Trump has made boxes a target of attack. Ahead of the 2020 election, he tweeted that “Democrats are using mailboxes, which are a disaster for voter safety.”

In a statement shared on Twitter last month, he stood by that claim. “Drop boxes are only good for Democrats and cheating, not good for Republicans,” he said.

Other Republicans are following his lead.

“Drop boxes were introduced as an emergency measure during the pandemic, but many counties did not follow safety guidelines in place, such as requiring camera surveillance on every drop box,” said said Georgia State Sen. Butch Miller running for lieutenant. governor, said in a statement when he introduced legislation banning drop boxes.

“Moving forward, we can return to a pre-pandemic normal of in-person voting,” he added. “Removing drop boxes will help restore the trust that has been lost.”

National election administration expert and former Denver election official Amber McReynolds said drop boxes benefit people of all political persuasions and only became controversial because Trump and his allies didn’t understand them.

“It’s literally just a safe way for people to submit their ballot in person,” she said. “Frankly, I ran elections for 13 years and drop boxes offer better security than even mailboxes.”

“We analyzed the data on this,” she added. “People like the idea of ​​voting at home, spending their time researching issues, but they still like the idea of ​​submitting it in person, so dropboxes give them the best of both worlds.”

Early states

Drop boxes first became commonplace in the western states that were the first to move to mail-in elections – Washington, Colorado and Oregon.

“They were our first big clients and it kind of exploded from there,” Olson said.

Over the past two decades, their use has expanded, first in states with mail-in elections like Republican-controlled Utah, and then in other blue and red states across the country.

“Counties have added additional drop boxes almost every year since 2014,” Justin Lee, Utah’s former chief election officer, told Politifact in 2020. “We haven’t had any security issues, and we have no indication that the drop boxes favor one party over another party.

In the 2016 general election, nearly one in six American voters voted using a drop box. In Colorado, nearly 75% of all voters used a drop box.

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That number increased in 2020 as more voters chose to vote by mail due to the coronavirus pandemic and U.S. Postal Service slowdowns, prompting voters and election officials to wonder if mail could be reliable in delivering a ballot before strict deadlines.

Murray Morgan, president and CEO of Kingsley, a California-based manufacturer of metal drop boxes, said his company had been doing library book returns for decades, but got into the business of ballot boxes in 2020 when the demand became clear.

“We thought, ‘Hey, there’s a market there if we deliver the right product,'” he said. “We have changed the opening of the depots of our units, we have reinforced them for security. We have done many things to address state concerns about ballot security. »

Morgan said his company has about 400 scattered across the country for the 2020 election, but expects to be able to produce thousands for future elections.

New push for regulation

Prior to the 2020 election, only eight states — Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Montana, New Mexico, Oregon, and Washington State — had laws explicitly regarding drop boxes.

But the new political focus on the voting method has prompted state lawmakers to regulate or limit its use.

A new bill introduced in Utah, where ballot boxes have been popular for nearly a decade, would require 24-hour video surveillance at ballot boxes.

In Georgia, use of drop boxes declined from 2020 to 2021 after the state took steps to limit their use, including a cap of one box per 100,000 active registered voters or one for each polling location anticipated (whichever is smaller).

Voters were also restricted to using the boxes when early voting sites were open. The change was felt most dramatically in the most populous counties, including those in the Atlanta metro area.

Georgia State Senator Butch Miller has also proposed legislation to ban the use of drop boxes altogether.

Like Georgia, Florida limited the use of drop boxes with a bill last year that only allows election supervisors to place drop boxes in their counties during the early hours of voting. The boxes must also be placed in a permanent, staffed voting site. Supervisors who try to offer more drop boxes for additional periods are subject to fines of $25,000.

In Wisconsin, a judge last month banned the use of drop boxes, but an appeals court later reinstated them for the February primary. The state Supreme Court said it would hear the case, but left the appeals court ruling in effect in the meantime.

McReynolds said she believes the political controversy over drop boxes is a symptom of the broader politicization of the democratic process.

“I really think it was politicized because people felt like it hurt them, or one person felt like it hurt them,” McReynolds said. “If there hadn’t been drop boxes or mail-in voting, it would have been early voting or automatic voter registration. It almost seems like either way, one of them would have been called in simply for making it easier for people to vote.


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